Okay, tell me straight, have you heard of Joan Eardley (1921-1963)? I was introduced to this artist’s work in 2012 and have been an ardent admirer ever since. Whether or not you know her work, I’m delighted to introduce Joan Eardley and her pastel landscapes.
Although born in England, Joan Eardley is considered a Scottish painter. Her Scottish mother and her sister (her father had taken his life earlier) moved to Scotland to avoid the bombing in London during the war and with only a few exceptions of time spent in London and on the continent, Eardley spent most of her life there. In 1954, she started living in Catterline, a village on the coast of Scotland. It was here she painted her landscapes and seascapes.
Sadly her art career lasted only about 15 years with her early death from breast cancer in 1963 at age 42. One can only imagine how her work would have evolved if she’d lived longer! Eardley is most well-known for two themes – the paintings of children in the Townhead area of Glasgow, and those done around the fishing village of Catterline, just south of Aberdeen. Such a contrast between the urban grubbiness and colour of slum children and the wild rural land and sea of north east coast Scotland!
A while back, I wrote a blog about Eardley’s pastels of Glasgow’s tenement kids. From the mid-1950s, she began painting landscapes more and more. No doubt this came as a result of her beginning to live in Catterline in 1954 (after a number of visits since 1950). There is such a directness and immediacy in Joan Eardley’s capturing of the spirit of this place.
Eardley’s Catterline paintings were often of the wild stormy seas under turbulent skies in this part of Scotland. Most of her best paintings of the seascape were done in the last two years of her life. Here are three very small pastels done during that time. They capture with vigorous strokes, a swiftly changing stormy sky, where Eardley reveals the energy and grandeur of nature. You can imagine her grabbing sheet after sheet of paper, with joy and fervour attempting to put down what’s before her.
You can sense Eardley’s full-on observation of the sea and sky which has also been intensely experienced. In an interview with the BBC in 1963 (the year of her death), Eardley said:
“With landscape, when I’m painting in the North East, I hardly ever move out of the village – I hardly ever move from one spot! I’m trying to do something and you’re never really satisfied with what you’re doing so you keep on trying and the more you try, the more you think of new things, new ways of doing this particular subject and so you just go on and on or you might just turn around in the middle of doing a certain painting and you see something else and you run back and get another canvas and try and do that. But it’s still the same spot really and it’s probably the same feeling that you’re trying to grasp. I suppose I’m essentially a romantic. I believe in sort of emotion that you get from what your eyes show you and what you feel about certain things. ”
(I transcribed this snippet from a 2013 BBC show marking 50 years since her death. To hear it, click here and tune in at 32:40. After Eardley’s words, the interviewer talks to Anne Morrison, Eardley’s niece, and author Christopher Andreae.)
The next two larger pieces show ominous skies over the land rather than the sea.
When the weather was clear, we get these light-filled pastels. They may have been done slightly earlier than the ones above as it seems it was the sea that consumed much of her last year or so of painting. Apparently after starting to live at Catterline, she didn’t start by painting the sea – she said she had not yet worked out how to do it (Andreae, p 29). She needed to spend time with it and understand it.
The pastel below is an earlier one. You can see how much more detailed Eardley was in her recording of a scene. Her later pastels also describe so much more of her own visceral reaction to what she was seeing and experiencing.
Catterline was a fishing village and the boats and nets were another favourite subject for Eardley.
Watch this short video to hear Joan Eardley’s voice and to get a sense of this place called Catterline.
So tell me, what do you think of Joan Eardley and her pastel landscapes? Do they move you?
If you’re planning on being in Scotland during the first few months of 2017, do take in the exhibition of her work at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art! I would sooooooo love to see it! You never know. Maybe I’ll be asked to do a workshop in Scotland 🙂
Just one other thing, in my researching for this blog, I was on Amazon and discovered a new book by Fiona Pearson and Sara Stevenson on Joan Eardley. As always, I took a gander at the reviews and low and behold, to my total surprise and tickled-pink delight, I found this:
“Recommended. Joan Eardley should be more well-known in the U.S.A. Here is an excellent article about her, which discusses why her work is important better and more thoroughly than a reviewer can say in a few brief words: https://www.howtopastel.com/2014/10/joan-eardley-pastels-of-slum-kids/”
Cool huh?! (Sorry, had to brag a bit!)
Okay, that wraps it up for this blog.
Until next time,
PS. Sources for images used here are from Christopher Andreae’s wonderful book, Joan Eardley, Lund Humphries, 2013, pp 58, 61,76, 142, 148, 154; and also The Scottish Gallery, the Gracefield Arts Centre and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.
For Canadian purchasers:
For international buyers:
And this is the book I referred to but haven’t seen yet